Food Forum: Prepping for BBQ season

Warmer months ahead have consumers ready to fire up the grill.

By Shawn Harris

With frigid temperatures giving way to the annual spring thaw, many home cooks areShawn-Harris getting the itch to take the cover off the grill. While maintenance of the barbecue grill and associated tools might satisfy the urge for a few more weeks, retail grocers should take the time to beef up the all important meat department in anticipation of the spring and summer months when grilling is atop the mind of many consumers.

Consumers are paying closer attention to the quality, price and durability of their meat purchases. Purchasing behavior is also motivated increasingly by convenience; the 2013 Power of Meat report found that products fitting consumers’ lifestyle demands carry more weight in influencing purchase intent than ever before.

As the meat case accounts for a significant percentage of overall supermarket sales, the extra push from outdoor cooking enthusiasts can be a boost for retailers, especially those who best capitalize on the latest consumer behavioral trends. For example, retailers that address such areas as customers’ lack of time and confusion around proper meat storage and preparation techniques are best prepared to thrive during grilling season.

With the first day of spring just weeks away, below are some ways retailers can take advantage of opportunities to accelerate meat department revenue during the warm weather months:

•Spread the Word: Maximizing visibility for featured meat offerings utilizing a variety of marketing tools—including online and print promotions and in-store specials—keeps grilling top of mind, and makes the meat department a can’t-miss a destination during shopping. Nearly half of respondents (46%) to a 2011 Beef Checkoff survey stated they were more likely to buy beef if they received coupons or discovered special deals, even if those offers highlight premium products selling at a higher price point. However, even the best offers are not as effective in generating results if increasingly busy and distracted consumers cannot find the products once they are in-store or if meat cases are not as appealing as they could be.

Proper packaging provides retailers insurance on both fronts. Utilizing securely sealed packaging eliminates leakers, helping retailers avoid shrink and keeping meat cases pristine and inviting for consumers. Adopting the latest packaging innovations also offers retailers a more robust variety of product labeling options; helping to distinguish meat in a way that draws attention from consumers looking for specific cuts or special offers.

•Full Speed from the Cart to the Plate: Retailers that help reduce the time it takes to prepare meals can position themselves as a valuable partner. Providing products packaged in new formats that offer easy, knifeless opening can help get meat from the store or the fridge to the grill more quickly—and can cut down on cleanup because fewer knives and utensils touch raw product, saving valuable time after the meal. Also, by offering vacuum packaged meat in addition to or instead of PVC overwrapped product, retailers can offer enhanced flexibility for on-the-go consumers. Purchasers of vacuum packaged meat enjoy the advantages of the packaging format’s versatility; not only is the product inside the freshest available, but it can be stored up to two weeks in the refrigerator, or much longer in the freezer—without developing freezer burn.

•Fuel the Fire—Grilling Novices and Beginners Need Some Help: The 2013 Power of Meat report identifies a lack of knowledge of preparation as one of the key barriers to meat purchases; the same study, however, also shows more consumers turning to online resources for help. Retailers can utilize the online tools to reach target audiences with new recipes, preparation tips and other helpful information. Those who harness trusted online resources stand to increase revenues from appreciative consumers.

Combining educational information with in-store offers can increase consumer traffic and meat department profits, especially when product images clearly demonstrate product appearance and labeling for easy identification in store. Yet another option to reach those consumers lacking the confidence to prepare meals without a little extra help is adoption of packaging innovations that enable pre-marination of meats with just the right combination of ingredients, clearly labeled with instructions on timing to apply marinade, appropriate cooking temperatures and techniques, and more.

Shawn Harris is marketing director for fresh red meat for Sealed Air’s Cryovac brand. He can be reached at

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